Posted by: Harold Knight | 07/16/2011

Is your refrigerator running? Better catch it.

This morning I’m pressed for time, and an unusual event is taking place. At 7 AM I must leave Port Orford to drive to the airport in Eugene. It’s now 4:30 AM. My things are packed, breakfast (two boiled eggs—the last of the food I’ve purchased this week) is ready, and all I have to do is write and get dressed. You’d think that would mean I have enough time. The unusual event is an actual storm. That is, a pretty constant fairly strong wind is blowing, and it’s raining intermittently. I believe, with all of the cloudiness and fog I’ve seen here, this is the first rainstorm I’ve ever seen.

Wouldn’t you know the morning I’ve allowed myself just enough driving time to get to the airport, rain might slow me down.

(By the way, as on my first morning here, I have the porch doors open to hear the washing of the ocean onto the beach. I want that sound in my head as I leave. The memory may have to last for a year. Now I hear the ocean and the rain. I do not want to leave.)

Time is both a vanishing moment and a lasting bio-social invariant in organizing human activity and perception. The ultimate goal of this organization is to lessen the uncertainty and randomness that individuals, social groups, nation states and cultures constantly encounter in form of the results of both natural and human action. It is important to distinguish between individual existential uncertainty

(when and how will I die?) and social uncertainty. . . (1).

Some old guy keeps following me around the beach

Some old guy keeps following me around the beach

I first read that essay on June 25. It’s haunted me since. I think I’ve quoted it before although I don’t have time to check. I remember looking up Tallin University in Estonia where Aarelaid-Tart teaches. I don’t have time to check because Time is both a vanishing moment and a lasting bio-social invariant, obviously. Every moment I write is vanishing, and the bio-social invariant is that my bio (my body) has to get to the airport or the plane will leave without me (a social event). There! I can distort the thinking of an important scholar with the best of them.

Think about it. How do I know the trip to Sacramento has not already happened, and I’m just now thinking about it, or that time is really happening in reverse and we mortals are clueless about what it means? Or perhaps it’s random. Things happen in random order; we simply try to keep up by organizing events in our minds in order to “Make the Past Usable” (or what we think is the past).

At all cost, I want to avoid uncertainty.

I abhor the sound of machines running. The one unpleasantness about this lodging is the refrigerator sounds pretty much like an electric band-saw. When I was a kid, my parents (as did everyone else’s parents) subscribed to Reader’s Digest. It was the easiest way to keep au courant with the thinking and various wags’ commentary on the thinking of the day. I hardly ever read an article in it, but I did read all the humor and “Life in these United States” pieces. One I have never forgotten. Someone wrote a little piece about how her elderly mother, sitting in the living room, suddenly jumped up and said, “Something stopped!” Everyone in the family was so used to the humming and clanking noises of the new-fangled labor-saving devices that no one but Grandma noticed when, for example, the refrigerator had reached the proper temperature and the motor automatically stopped.

So here I am, packed and almost ready to go, having planned (no, it was a lucky accident) my meals so carefully that the only food left in the refrigerator is two boiled eggs I’ll eat in about an hour, and the band-saw-like motor is running. Puts me in mind of the grammar school joke. “Is your refrigerator running? Better catch it!”

Not any more. I know how to turn it off—put the dial where it was when I arrived here.

Ah! Now all I hear is the surf and the rain.

Sunrise over Mt. Humbug

Sunrise over Mt. Humbug

The ultimate goal of this organization is to lessen the uncertainty and randomness that individuals, social groups, nation states and cultures constantly encounter in form of the results of both natural and human action.

To lessen the uncertainty and randomness that this individual constantly encounters.

Because I’m pressed for time (and can make the past usable by remembering what happens when one does not arrive at the airport at the appointed time), I will insert here a longish quotation rather than trying to incorporate it into my train of thought (if I have one).

In the Christian West, the search for an elixir of life was equally prevalent [as in the Taoist East], at least among the elite . . . longevity was an important dimension of medieval theology, especially insofar as the spirituality of the pope was related to questions about the nature of longevity. Medieval popes had remarkably short lives and this fact was often taken as an indication of their profound spirituality. Nevertheless popes were apparently as keen as the next man to extend life (2).

Well, now. A short life is an indication of profound spirituality. But even the supposedly most spiritual among us want to live a long time.

Time. Making the Past Usable. (An interesting time-saving device is that, like many academic writers, Aarelaid-Tart, shortens his phrase to MPU; some academic writing is so full of shorthand it’s almost impossible to decipher.) So to MPU, I’ll cut to the chase. I opened the refrigerator to get out my boiled eggs and the damned thing turned itself back on. The fog and rain is so dense I can’t see past the waves breaking on the beach below. The bio in my bio-social existence is somewhat weepy. I really do not want to leave here.

A place in the forest

A place in the forest

I have no idea about the passage of time. I’m certainly not spiritual. Why I hate motors running I do not know. How my life can be so determined by cars and airplanes and clocks is an unpleasant mystery to me. That I can be as sappy and sentimental as the next person is obvious:

The trees in Siskiyou National Forest, the surf at Cape Blanco beach, and the sunrise and sunset over Paradise Point beach seem certain to me. They have nothing to do with my bio-social reality. Or my refrigerator. Or they have everything to do with those things, and are the reality that holds the stuff of my life together, that Makes the Past Usable (the present and future, too).
(1) Aarelaid-Tart, Aili. “Avoiding Uncertainty by Making Past Usable.” TRAMES: A Journal of the Humanities & Social Sciences 14.4 (2010): 411-426.
(2) Turner, Bryan. “Longevity Ancient and Modern.” Society 46.3 (2009): 255-261.



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